Confidence is a contagious beast. Five games played and five points clear at the top of the table and the Hearts fans are increasingly adamant that they can stay there until the end of the season. They aren’t the only ones.
Buoyed by another three points, this time at Fir Park, to maintain their 100 per cent start to the campaign, even the players are willing to follow the dreamers in the stands.
“Can we stay top? I think so,” said young Jimmy Dunne, who was brought in to replace injured captain Christophe Berra and has since formed an impressive partnership with John Souttar.
“If we keep performing the way we are, there is no reason why we can’t build and improve on what we are doing. We aren’t looking at our past wins and thinking, ‘We are delighted with that’. We are analysing and working on what we can improve to beat teams by bigger margins going forward. So I think we will improve instead of going the other way.
“I haven’t looked past the next game. I haven’t listened to those shouts from the fans. I haven’t thought about winning the league as I have only played three games. All I am thinking of is getting a clean sheet in the next game and building on our performance.
“At the same time, if we keep winning, then anything is possible. The fans always do dream and, without that, we’d get nowhere. We want the fans to believe in us. That’s what we need. The support they showed at Fir Park was immense. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“We need that backing and, with the support and the effort we are putting in, I feel like we can go a long way.”
The 20-year-old, knows that comparisons to Leicester City have already been made and he can see why but he has even more personal experience of defeating the odds to achieve the unimaginable, having helped Accrington Stanley to promotion last term. “Accrington’s promotion last season was proof that everything is possible. It was a lesser story than Leicester City winning the Premier League but we came from nowhere.
“Nobody thought we would get promoted but we fought in every way we could to get there and the hard work paid off and I can sense something special in this dressing-room. There is a great atmosphere and sense of belief. We have real charismatic leaders too.”
There was grit in the triumph over Stephen Robinson’s men and it showed that while they are capable of blowing away teams, as they did against St Mirren last time out, or going toe to toe as they did with defending champions Celtic, or digging deep to win battles as they did at Motherwell, they have different ways of getting the job done, which will make it tougher for other managers to plot their demise.
It wasn’t bonnie at Fir Park but, in the end, it was effective as they repelled all that the host side could throw at them and they then had the presence of mind to put the keeper under pressure following Carl McHugh’s loose pass-back, the determination to win a key challenge, which Motherwell believe, with the benefit of television replays, should have been a foul, and then the back-up to pounce as the ball spun free and stroke it home.
Steven Naismith was again key in that, bellowing at Uche Ikpeazu to rush at the keeper, urging him to win the tackle and then darting in to pick up the spoils and cool enough to slot it into the net.
The 50-50 left Trevor Carson unable to continue and requiring a trip to hospital with suspected broken bones but, in the end, that moment of action was all the separated the sides on a day when defences dominated.
With manager Craig Levein back at work following his heart scare, he watched from the stand and was delighted with the assured rearguard display. Dunne and Souttar celebrated at the end as though the league had already been won but it is the small victories that add up to something greater. For them, the clean sheet was almost as significant as another three points,
“That was a really big win for us and the feeling of a clean sheet was incredible,” Dunne said. “It hurts when it doesn’t happen as a defender. To come to a place like Fir Park, where it’s physically demanding, tight and there are small margins, a clean sheet is really pleasing. We are very proud of that and delighted with the win.”
“This league has changed over the last few seasons and it looks a lot more open that it used to be. With the start we’ve had, we have put any doubts to the side and we look a real threat at the top of the table.
“Coming to Hearts, I saw an amazing opportunity considering how open the league is. That is surprising as it’s not been like that for a few years. But we have a chance and we are just trying to build something.”
There was togetherness in the way substitute Oliver Bozanic and talismanic goalscorer Naismith greeted each other in the centre circle and shows how well the tally of new faces, which has risen to 18 with the signing of midfielder Sean Clare yesterday, have all worked to settle in. It was evident in their willingness to work for each other throughout the 90 minutes and was reinforced by those post-match interactions.
The bond between players and fans was also clear as the squad hailed the almost 3000 fans who had travelled through, some of whom will have renewed their season tickets in the summer with some trepidation but are now turning up at games fuelled by a growing belief rather than just loyalty. Dunne added: “Everybody wants to help each other. There are no massive egos. We have a bunch of hard-working, honest lads.”